Sex Education may contain some of the best-written friendships on TV right now, and one of the most impressive aspects is their sheer number. The show has always been efficient with its characterization, switching characters around to explore new dynamics in almost every episode, but it’s particularly striking now with three seasons’ worth of character building behind us.
Jumping around to focus on so many characters at once is an approach that could quickly get unwieldy, but it somehow always works because Sex Education understands that not every character needs to have a defined season- or series-long arc to be treated as a three-dimensional person. People and friendships can come and go, centered occasionally for their own short stories and existing with their own rich inner lives even when they aren’t onscreen.
But that makes it all the more satisfying when the school comes together in a shared setting like part of one joyful ecosystem, as it did on the class trip and as it does at every assembly. The main narrative thrust of season three has been the students’ battle with Hope and her regressive policies. It was always leading to this: a big, chaotic, public celebration of sex on open day at Moordale (a.k.a. Sparkside). It’s a video embracing Moordale’s “Sex School” nickname pointing out the necessity of safe spaces and open dialogue to combat the stigma of sex. It would be a little preachy if it weren’t so funny — and if it weren’t so joyously cathartic after a term of aggressive suppression and active cruelty from the new administration.
Students record themselves in mostly genitalia-themed costumes and confess the secrets they refuse to feel ashamed about. In the auditorium, everyone dons signs modeled after the shaming signs Hope made and chants “We are Sex School” until the band explodes into a performance of “Fuck the Pain Away.” Cal crashes through a vent onto the stage and gives Hope the finger. Outside, students spray-paint a Wall of Vulva. And it’s all in full view of Moordale’s investors, along with the press, who ask, “How progressive is too progressive?”
But like any episode of this show, “Episode Seven” is about not only the larger Moordale ecosystem but the individual links. The video wouldn’t have happened without the tight friendships of Jackson, Viv, and Cal, who organized the student forum. But it also ties in Jackson’s old friendship with Otis when he brings him in for assistance. And then Otis’s relationship with his ex Ruby gets some implicit closure when she bursts into the control room to help them keep the video playing by fighting off Hope. And his other ex, Ola, asks him to help out her girlfriend, Lily, whom Otis almost lost his virginity to two seasons ago and whom he helped with her vaginismus.
The scene in which Otis visits Lily is one of the many that are possible only because of the rich interconnectivity of this ensemble. Another show would devote almost all of Otis’s scenes this season to his interactions with Maeve, Ruby, Eric, and Jean, but he has his unique friendships with Lily, Adam, Jackson, and Ola, too. Lily opens up about how she retreats from the world with her alien fantasies and writing, and Otis tells her she’s great just the way she is. It’s exactly what she needs to hear right now.
It’s increasingly clear to Otis that he really does love helping people, and he can never stay away from it for long. His best friend, Eric, helps him realize that near the Wall of Vulva, saying none of this could have happened without his starting the clinic. He finally goes to Maeve and tells her he did the clinic to be close to her but learned how much he loved it, asking her to be a team with him again. They share a kiss in the rain … leading to Otis ignoring an urgent call from Jakob.
Jakob’s calling from the hospital because Jean went into labor while appearing on Good Morning Moordale to discuss her book. She had a baby girl, but there’s something wrong; she’s losing a lot of blood. The episode ends on a terrifying note with Jean’s life potentially in danger.
Letting the fireworks fly, “Episode Seven” often feels like the first half of a two-part finale. Maeve and Aimee’s fight comes to a quick end when they both admit they acted unkindly and each admits the other was right about some things. They team up to track down Erin and Elsie, who are trying to escape on a boat somewhere. But Erin lets Maeve take Elsie after Elsie keeps asking to see Anna, and she believes Anna could be a loving mom.
The story of Erin’s addiction and the way it weighs on her kids has become even more complex this season, so it’s gutting to watch her let Elsie go. But again, friends are crucial for moving past something. Aimee suggests to Maeve that since they each have shitty moms sometimes, “Maybe [they] could be each other’s mums.” It’s one of many deeply affecting moments in this episode.
Jackson resumes his romance with Cal after open day, and they make out in Cal’s bedroom. Jackson calls them beautiful again, then spirals, realizing the potentially gendered nature of that word. Cal is cool with it, but Jackson can’t move on from feeling like he fucked up. And while he’s theoretically cool with the idea of being in a queer relationship, he hasn’t really thought about it that way until now, when Cal brings it up.
Jackson’s story has been one of my favorites this season, partly because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a TV story line about a man who unquestionably identifies as heterosexual falling for a nonbinary person. But I also think the two characters have great chemistry, and I love the passion Cal has brought out in Jackson. Dua Saleh is so effortlessly believable in portraying Cal’s general chillness and their frustrated confusion about handling this new relationship between them. One of the first few times Jackson spoke to Cal, he told them he felt like he’d known them for ages. But he may still have some discomfort he needs to deal with — whether it’s with Cal or with himself.
“Episode Seven” is a beautiful celebration of sex and the human body, but, as always, it’s also about people’s need to connect and be seen in all kinds of ways. Featuring multiple long-in-coming climaxes, it tees up the finale for what should be a great ending if the rest of this season is any indication.
All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be
• The episode begins with a beautifully animated sequence depicting Lily’s erotica, with Glenoxi (based on herself) being saved by Starlanza (based on Ola).
• Isaac says he’s “taking his heart off the table” with Maeve because even if he forgave her for kissing Otis, he would always wonder if she’d rather be with him. I don’t blame you, buddy.
• I love that Jean’s going into labor allows us a scene where Jakob talks alone to Dr. Cutton about his late wife. She was having an affair before she got sick, and he never properly grieved that complicated betrayal. So he still has trust issues, but he wants to try. This ties back to his earlier skepticism about therapy — hopefully, this session changed his mind a little!
• If this is the last we see of Peter Groff, it’ll be a bit of a waste of Jason Isaacs, but Michael telling him off and leaving his dinner party was delightful. Michael’s biggest win, though, is sleeping with Maureen after showing up at her door and telling her he wants to try to be the man she wants.
• When Eric suggests they go to a gay bar sometime, Adam says he’s not ready for that yet, that he likes wearing makeup only in private with Eric. Eric seems uneasy about this and eventually confesses that he has kissed someone else. I’m surprised at how much it hurts to see them apart right now.